14 March 2010

An Exercise in Navel Gazing: The Subconscious Shelf

Although I do get an embarrassing amount of satisfaction looking at my own lovely bookshelf, The New Yorker has taken this concept a bit far with "The Subconscious Shelf" - a new blog feature where eager readers send in photos of their bookshelves to be analyzed by Book Bench co-founder Macy Halford.  It launched on March 1st and already has a handful of write-ups. Here's one:

Hanan, you are a woman of taste, thrift, and erudition, with a restless, dreaming soul and a strong moral sense: Nietzsche, “The Waste Land,” bright yellow “used” stickers on many books, including one by Rushdie whose title we can’t make out; Antonia Frazier’s out-of-print anthology “Love Letters”; many handsome aging hardbacks; oil paintings of ships at sea that mirror, perhaps, the journey your mind takes when you read (and is that a copy of Patrick Moore’s interstellar exploration “The Sky at Night”?). Flowers atop your stacks to represent the blossoming of the intellect; and the scales of justice, to remind you that the goal of reading is to give you a stronger sense of how to use them. 
Oh, and that life-size cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson: well, he just goes with anything.
Is it a joke? Sincere? Maybe it's just fun.  I'm not great at figuring these sorts of things out.  Consider: I had a hard time deciding whether or not the questions in The Atlantic's "What's Your Problem" column were all jokes that were written by the editors.  A few months after the feature was launched, I was told that they weren't in fact fake - that readers were actually submitting these questions and that Jeffrey Goldberg was given the freedom to mock them for our amusement.  Even so, I still have a hard time believing that this is a real question:
I’ve always felt that my sense of humor has suffered because I’m not part of an inherently funny ethnic or religious group. My best friend is Jewish and Italian (a veritable font of humor), and my wife is Catholic (also good for laughs). But I was raised Presbyterian. How do I mine my psyche for better party repartee?
But come to think of it, it doesn't matter to me if the questions are real or not, because, unlike Halford's posts, Goldberg's responses are pretty consistently hilarious. 

So, something tells me that this feature, though a little tongue-in-cheek, is ultimately rooted in some sort of sincerity.  To that I say maybe New Yorker readers should just accept the fact that they probably all have pretty substantive book collections, leave the commentary aside, and just send in arty photos of their surely masterful (in content and design) shelves. 

Take a look...this is cool. 

The observation that "what in New York would feel twee seems organic in California," is pointless. 

But, this is probably here to stay for a little while at least.  I assume that the next feature will be "The Dilettante's DVDs."  VALIDATE US, NEW YORKER!

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